Ford government to fast-track construction of transit systems, as Ontario reports 154 new COVID-19 cases


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The Ontario government wants to fast-track the construction of highways and transit systems to help the province financially recover from the impact of COVID-19, Premier Doug Ford announced Monday. 

Ford says his government is proposing legislation that “would make it easier and faster” to build provincial highways and major transit infrastructure projects, as well as affordable housing. 

The government also says it plans to enter into new commercial agreements with partners to build “transit-oriented communities,” which would better integrate transit in communities by building it closer to housing complexes — including affordable housing — and downtown cores. 

Kinga Surma, the associate minister of transportation, says the province is prioritizing the Greater Toronto Area, adding that agreements on future projects are in place with both York Region and the City of Toronto.

Those agreements, Surma says, include plans to fast-track four major Toronto-area transit projects.

“Residents have raised concerns as to why nothing gets built,” Surma said. 

“We are making changes to address this.” 

Ford says the province’s $2.6 billion-plan to fast-track these projects will put tens of thousands of people back to work. 

“People are tired of waiting,” Ford said Monday. 

“We’re charting our path for economic recovery.” 

Leamington, Kingsville to enter Stage 2 Tuesday 

Meanwhile, Ford announced that the remainder of the Windsor-Essex region will be allowed to move into Stage 2 of reopening as of 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, joining the rest of Ontario. 

Up until now, the two regions of Leamington and Kingsville had been left behind as the rest of Windsor-Essex moved to the second stage of reopening on June 25.

Windsor-Essex recently saw a surge of cases among temporary farm workers in the Leamington and Kingsville areas, but saw just four newly-confirmed infections of the novel coronavirus since Sunday. 

Ford says COVID-19 outbreaks on local farms are under control and the community spread of the virus is low.

The premier says he will visit the Windsor-Essex region in the coming days to thank the community for its patience.

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, says now that all of Ontario has moved into Stage 2, regions must “keep their guards up” to help prevent future outbreaks. 

Williams said both Toronto and Peel regions are investigating outbreaks at multiple workplaces, a trend the province could see continuing to play out as new cases of the novel coronavirus decline. 

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, associate medical officer of health, echoed those sentiments, saying “it’s all very encouraging,” but that people must continue to adhere to public health advice. 

As for Ontario’s plans to enter into Stage 3 of reopening, Health Minister Christine Elliott says provincial officials hope to make that move “as soon as we possibly can,” but added that they can’t yet name a specific date. 

Ontario reports 154 new cases 

Those announcements come as Ontario reported 154 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, with the majority concentrated in Toronto and Peel Region. 

Toronto and Peel reported 59 and 43 cases, respectively.

The province has now had a total of 35,948 confirmed cases since the outbreak began in late January. About 87.4 per cent of those are resolved. 

Twenty-nine of Ontario’s 34 public health units reported five or fewer new cases, and 18 of those 29 units confirmed no new cases at all, Elliott noted in a series of tweets. Only three — Toronto, Peel and York — found more than 10. 

Fifty-eight of the new cases reported today are in people aged 20 to 39, while 51 more are in the 40-59 age group.

The number of patients in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 continued its steady decline and is now 118. Thirty-six are being treated in intensive care units, while 21 require ventilators.

Over the weekend, Toronto’s Humber River Hospital reported that it had no COVID-19 patients in its ICU for the first time since March. 

Moreover, the province’s network of community, commercial and hospital labs processed 17,303 test samples for the novel coronavirus Sunday. Another 8,931 are in the queue waiting to be completed.

The Ministry of Health also reported no new COVID-19-linked deaths today, and Ontario’s official death toll sits at 2,689. Monday marks the first time in months that the province has seen zero new deaths linked to the virus.

A CBC News count based on data provided directly by public health units puts the actual death toll at 2,734, a number that has also gone unchanged since Sunday evening. 

Most courts reopen

Meanwhile, Ontario’s courts will resume in-person proceedings today after being shuttered for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ministry of the Attorney General has said courtrooms will reopen gradually, with the goal of having all courtrooms operational by November 1.

The initial plan was to have 149 courtrooms in both the Superior Court of Justice and the Ontario Court of Justice open today for trials and preliminary inquiries in 44 locations, but on Saturday the ministry announced that two of those locations were not yet ready to reopen.

Ontario courts were closed for months as the province tried to contain the spread of COVID-19. (Tom Addison/CBC)

It says the College Park courthouse in Toronto and the Guelph courthouse did not have the necessary health and safety precautions in place.

In the courthouses that are reopening, there will be Plexiglas barriers in courtrooms, interview rooms, intake offices and at public counters.

The ministry also says everyone will be required to answer COVID-19 screening questions before entering and masks will be mandatory.

The courthouses have been closed since March 16, with some operations moving online.

Ontario mayors call for emergency relief funding 

Meanwhile, mayors from Ontario’s largest cities say the federal and provincial governments must provide emergency funding to municipalities to cover costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Large Urban Mayors’ Caucus of Ontario says upper levels of government must act now to prevent property tax increases and user fee hikes.

The group also says it has been forced to contemplate cost-cutting measures that would affect services such as transit, staffing, public health and construction, as well as supports to children, families and seniors. 

The group has been calling for several months for a least $10 billion in relief funding for municipalities across the country.

“By acting now to confirm relief for municipalities, senior governments can avoid these unforeseen property tax increases and destructive cuts to frontline municipal services,” the group said in a release issued Monday. 

“Cuts or property tax increases will unfairly hurt the very same people that the federal and provincial governments have spent billions helping during the pandemic.” 

Ottawa makes masks mandatory 

Residents of eastern Ontario, including the city of Ottawa, will be required to wear non-medical masks in indoor public places to prevent the spread of COVID-19 starting at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, according to the medical officers of the four local public health units.

Ottawa and the surrounding region are the latest on a growing list of municipalities, such as Kingston and Toronto, mandating masks be worn in order to access indoor services and enter public facilities. 

Read more at CBC.ca